5 Reasons Why Stories Enhance The Customer Experience

How do brands blur the lines between prod­uct, mar­ket­ing, and the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence?

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 3 comments

In order to main­tain com­pet­i­tive advan­tage, brands must cre­ate com­pelling expe­ri­ences at every sin­gle touch point. And sto­ries are a great way to do that. But how do brands cre­ate sto­ries with val­ue as opposed to sim­ply churn­ing out con­tent?

Con­sumers have increas­ing­ly high­er expec­ta­tions about what brand­ed dig­i­tal expe­ri­ences are, as well as for expe­ri­ences in gen­er­al.

I’m not a fan of Uber as a com­pa­ny, but I can’t stop using it because it’s so con­ve­nient,” said Adam Klein­berg, CEO of inter­ac­tive agency Trac­tion at Ad Age’s recent dig­i­tal con­fer­ence. “The idea of not know­ing where my cab is dri­ves me nuts.”

In fact, the best brand­ed efforts blur the lines between prod­uct, mar­ket­ing and the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence, said Cindy Chas­tain, SVP of CX and Design at Mas­ter­Card. She uses the exam­ple of the Dis­ney Mag­icBand, a wrist­band that allows vis­i­tors to enter parks, unlock hotel rooms, and buy food and mer­chan­dise.

What’s so phe­nom­e­nal is that it trans­forms the park expe­ri­ence. You get access to rooms, line priv­i­leges and you can pay for things,” Chas­tain said. “It trans­forms the val­ue of the park, but it could come from the mar­ket­ing team or the prod­uct team.”

This incred­i­bly com­plex effort took Dis­ney three years to roll out, but, she notes, “Being able to think through this kind of thing is becom­ing even more impor­tant.”

That, she said, is because “we moved from a world in which per­cep­tion of val­ue is based on an expe­ri­ence one has with the core prod­uct and the sto­ries we tell around the core prod­uct to a world where our per­cep­tion of val­ue is based on the sum of the inter­ac­tions with the brand across all touch points.”

It’s not just about what we say, it’s about what we do, what we enable and the val­ue we bring to con­sumers,” Chas­tain added. “That’s the kind of thing they use to judge com­pa­nies.”

Bad Examples

View Momentology's Content Marketing GuideWhile con­tent can cer­tain­ly be valu­able, many brands, like Sears and its Shop Your Way por­tal, are rush­ing to push out con­tent as a way to cre­ate val­ue and miss the boat, Klein­berg said, liken­ing Sears’ mis­guid­ed effort to a “Pin­ter­est ripoff.”

This is not inno­v­a­tive. This is fea­ture bomb­ing,” he adds. “Bring val­ue or die. If you don’t bring val­ue, your cus­tomers will go some­where else and they won’t come back.”

Chas­tain said this also means los­ing a brand’s com­pet­i­tive advan­tage.

Cre­at­ing great expe­ri­ences is absolute­ly essen­tial for today’s sur­vival,” she said. “Cus­tomer expe­ri­ence lead­ers have a 30 point stock price advan­tage over those falling behind, so that expe­ri­ence is also your best mar­ket­ing tool.”

The Tool: Stories

Sto­ries are a sys­tem for cre­at­ing brand mean­ing because they “help us under­stand how and where to cre­ate val­ue for peo­ple,” Chas­tain said. A tra­di­tion­al sto­ry arc that film­mak­ers use when mak­ing movies can also be applied to a brand’s mar­ket­ing efforts to fig­ure out what sto­ries to tell, as well as how and why.

Sto­ry­telling has iron­i­cal­ly become a buzz­word because every­one in adver­tis­ing secret­ly wish­es they worked in Hol­ly­wood,” Klein­berg said.

To cre­ate mean­ing­ful expe­ri­ences and val­ue, brands must start by observ­ing their cus­tomers and then “using [that] obser­va­tion [along with] com­mon sense and creativity…[to] cre­ate mean­ing­ful solu­tions that…understand what that [cus­tomer] jour­ney [is] and map that out,” Klein­berg said.

Here are five ways sto­ries can help brands not only under­stand the cus­tomer jour­ney, but also enhance it:

1. Stories Help Show Brands Where To Focus

Chas­tain points to an R/GA cam­paign for Vol­vo in which the agency mapped out the cus­tomer jour­ney by think­ing about how con­sumers buy cars from the ini­tial con­tem­pla­tion stage to the actu­al own­er­ship expe­ri­ence. And in doing so, they real­ized most con­sumers already know what type of car body they want and so brand and agency were able to cater web con­tent accord­ing­ly to bet­ter suit cus­tomers’ nat­ur­al search ten­den­cies.

Klein­berg also uses the exam­ple of paint brand Kel­ly-Moore Paints, which was see­ing increased region­al com­pe­ti­tion from larg­er rival Sher­win-Williams.

They couldn’t com­pete dol­lar for dol­lar, so they had to focus their efforts on intro­duc­ing a new col­or sys­tem for design mavens [and offer] tools to indi­cate their lead­er­ship in col­or,” Klein­berg said.

The result­ing cam­paign, myCol­orStu­dio, allows con­sumers to design and save col­or palettes and tens of thou­sands of con­sumers have done so, Klein­berg said.

2. Stories Help Design Experiences With Real Value

Sarah Palin GunKlein­berg said his agency was approached by Adobe to help mar­ket its Cre­ative Suite, so “we looked at how do peo­ple actu­al­ly use Adobe prod­ucts to come up with an idea,” which was essen­tial­ly the real­iza­tion that con­sumers like to play around with Pho­to­shop to cre­ate news par­o­dies, such as Pho­to­shop­ping Sarah Palin’s head on the body of a woman hold­ing a gun and wear­ing an Amer­i­can flag biki­ni.

As a result, the agency cre­at­ed a game, Real or Fake, which essen­tial­ly asks con­sumers to decide whether a giv­en image is real or fake and rewards cer­tain respons­es with tuto­ri­als.

And, per Chas­tain, Mas­ter­Card has launched a new con­tent mar­ket­ing plat­form, Price­less Cities, because the brand is think­ing about where the most valu­able con­sumers are and it is try­ing to pro­vide a hook to down­load its app by solv­ing real world prob­lems in the trav­el expe­ri­ence.

The site allows con­sumers to select their home coun­tries and then choose loca­tions to explore.

3. Stories Help Use Emotion As Triggers

Emo­tion dri­ves deci­sion mak­ing, Chas­tain said, point­ing to Apple, whose home­page for a month lead­ing up to the release of Apple Watch has sim­ply includ­ed beau­ti­ful images of the prod­uct itself.

It’s not just about dri­ving con­ver­sions, it’s about sell­ing,” she said. “Apple under­stands this.”

So, too, does Nike, whose Nike+ prod­uct helped “[move] Nike away from a com­pa­ny that just pro­duced sports appar­el to a dig­i­tal com­pa­ny” and has “grown to become a tool to 32 mil­lion mem­bers.”

What’s more, Chas­tain notes the prod­uct takes a close look at how con­sumers run and what those jour­neys look like and has since inte­grat­ed fea­tures into the expe­ri­ence to keep them com­ing back like “the voice of an ath­lete cheer­ing you on dur­ing runs. It’s the emo­tion­al trig­gers, under­stand­ing where it’s valu­able.”

4. Stories Help The Brand Act And Communicate As One Entity

Klein­berg uses the exam­ple of a Droga5 cam­paign for Pru­den­tial, Bring your Chal­lenges, which out­lined retire­ment chal­lenges like map­ping out a cus­tomer jour­ney into a cre­ative exe­cu­tion. These chal­lenges include longevi­ty, pro­cras­ti­na­tion and risk, which the brand cre­at­ed con­tent around.

It fits seam­less­ly. It’s all one cohe­sive sto­ry that works seam­less­ly,” he said.

5. Stories That Are Great Are Naturally Retold

Klein­berg also uses the exam­ple of the Yahoo Weath­er app.

What a beau­ti­ful expe­ri­ence it is. The design is pris­tine,” he said. “Any time I open the weath­er, it’s like expe­ri­enc­ing a sto­ry.”

For her part, Chas­tain uses the exam­ple of MasterCard’s Price­less Sur­pris­es effort in which it has sur­prised card­hold­ers with expe­ri­ences such as Justin Tim­ber­lake show­ing up unan­nounced at a fan’s home.

Accord­ing to the Price­less Sur­pris­es web­site, the brand has sur­prised near­ly 78,000 card­hold­ers to date and Chas­tain said when the brand was look­ing into how to scale the pro­gram into new plat­forms to reach new peo­ple, they came up with the idea of help­ing mer­chants pro­vide price­less expe­ri­ences to their own cus­tomers.

Are you cre­at­ing sto­ries with val­ue to enhance the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence?

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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